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Jones eyeing Tigers' center-field spot

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- JaCoby Jones, seen by many as the Tigers' center fielder of the future, could end up wearing the same number as their center fielder of 2016. It was just a coincidence, he said, that he had number 4 -- which Cameron Maybin wore for Detroit last year -- during his stint in the Arizona Fall League.

"That's one of the numbers I had in the Fall League," Jones explained earlier this month at MLB's Rookie Career Development Program. "Once [Maybin] got traded, I told our clubbie, 'Hey, is there any way I can get number 4 if we don't sign another veteran or anybody that wants number 4?'"

DETROIT -- JaCoby Jones, seen by many as the Tigers' center fielder of the future, could end up wearing the same number as their center fielder of 2016. It was just a coincidence, he said, that he had number 4 -- which Cameron Maybin wore for Detroit last year -- during his stint in the Arizona Fall League.

"That's one of the numbers I had in the Fall League," Jones explained earlier this month at MLB's Rookie Career Development Program. "Once [Maybin] got traded, I told our clubbie, 'Hey, is there any way I can get number 4 if we don't sign another veteran or anybody that wants number 4?'"

Jones, ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the Tigers' system per MLB Pipeline, would be much happier to have Maybin's old job, no matter what number he's wearing. As Jones prepares for his second Spring Training with Detroit, he's hoping for the chance.

"It's open for the center-field spot," Jones said. "I know we have some outfielders out there, [Tyler] Collins and [Anthony] Gose. It's going to be fun competing for the job in center field, and I'm going to do whatever I can, whenever I'm on the field to help the team win -- play good defense, anything I can do. It's going to be a fun experience out there for me in Spring Training, just to compete for the job."

Every indication is that the 24-year-old will get the chance. Though general manager Al Avila has said he'd like to get Jones more development time, he said during a guest appearance on 97.1 FM The Ticket last week that Jones is one of the internal candidates to win the job in camp.

Video: MLB Rookie Prg: JaCoby Jones, DET, OF

"I would say JaCoby Jones is going to be a really good defensive player," Avila said. "He's very athletic. The question is: Will he hit enough to keep above water?"

Jones was one of four Tigers invited to the Rookie Career Development Program, joining Triple-A Toledo teammates Chad Bell and Myles Jaye, along with Class A West Michigan's Sandy Baez. The annual program prepares young players for several aspects of life in the big leagues, on and off the field.

Jones, of course, had his first experience in the Major Leagues last season, having been called up at the end of August.

"I wish I would've known some of this stuff before I got up in September," Jones said. "All the stuff we've learned [was helpful], whether it's the media, the meetings that we've had, talks about financial stuff, what to look forward to when you walk in the clubhouse, on- and off-the-field stuff, live situations with the fans, social media and everything. I've learned a lot of stuff. I wish I would have known that before I got called up last year. It was a good experience."

Jones is hoping it helps him feel more comfortable in the Majors this year, whenever he gets back up to the Majors -- much like he feels more comfortable in center field now after spending 71 games at the position last year between Detroit, Toledo and Double-A Erie.

"I grew up playing shortstop my entire life," Jones said, "and then I went to the Cape [Cod League] and played center field every day for two years, and a little bit at LSU. I feel more natural in center field and at shortstop. … But if I had to pick one position, it would probably be center field as my natural position."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

 

Detroit Tigers, JaCoby Jones